Plan calls for beef checkoff fee to double

David Pfrang, a Kansas cattleman, feeds his herd on this spring day in 2014. Pfrang believes the checkoff payments amount to taxation without representation. (Photo by Peggy Lowe, Harvest Public Media)
January 22, 2015 - 3:56pm

Cattle producers may get a chance to vote on whether they want to double the increasingly controversial $1 beef checkoff charge. Under a new plan unveiled this week, an industry working group proposed raising the fee to $2 that each producer pays upon sale of an animal, but also set a referendum every five years.

The proposal, which would have to get Congressional approval, would also offer producers the chance to get a refund of the additional $1, but not the original fee, according to a report by Chris Clayton in the Progressive Farmer.

The latest attempt at changing the beef checkoff comes at a time of producer unrest over the charge, mostly because independent farmers and ranchers have little say in how the mandated charge is spent.

The checkoff, which has raised over $2 billion since its inception in the mid-1980s, is also under fire for not being as effective as it should be as chicken recently replaced beef as consumers’ favorite meat.

Harvest Public Media recently outlined the problems with the checkoff in an investigation that detailed a system producers say rewards the big four meatpackers and the highly-compensated executives at the National Cattlemen Beef Association at the expense of farmers and ranchers. The NCBA gets the majority of the checkoff money to spend on promotion and research.

A working group has spent the last three years working on reforming the checkoff, but that ended in frustration last year as U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack failed in an attempt to launch a second checkoff-style program.

"We've been at this for three solid years in trying to find some solutions to an enhancement, and I think really what we arrived at is something that should be palatable to the beef industry," said Scott Stuart, CEO of the National Livestock Producers Association.

This latest plan, a memo of understanding between several large industry groups, would also allow more independent cattle farmers and ranchers on a nominating committee that has some say in who populates a board that makes decisions on spending the roughly $80 million the checkoff generates each year.

But that didn’t pacify several beef groups.

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard called the new plan “window dressing” that would deflect attention away from how the checkoff dollars are spent.

"The national beef checkoff program has become a USDA-supported cattle tax that helps the NCBA fight against policy proposals beneficial to independent farmers and ranchers,” Bullard said in a press release.

The plan will be discussed at the 2015 Cattle Industry Convention in San Antonio Feb. 4-7.



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